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LA Times Critic Revels in the Wonders of Long Beach’s Modern Mexican Food

Plus a double feature of some Northern Thai specialities in East Hollywood

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Amorcito Taqueria
Amorcito Taqueria
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

This week’s crop of LA Times reviews hits two very different corners of the region, starting with the new Amorcito down in Long Beach. Critic Patricia Escárcega took to the sister city to the south to explore chef Thomas Ortega’s reclamation of “pocho cuisine,” including a pretty sublime taco salad of all things. Escárcega loves the “cheeky presentation, and the way it smudges the line between high and low” while still being, simply, delicious.

And here’s her take on Ortega’s perspective overall:

Pochismo, in Ortega’s cooking, is a philosophy and culinary aesthetic guided by several qualities: wit, irreverence and the sort of fearless autonomy that allows a chef to erase the boundaries between what we think of as “Mexican” and “American” cooking; haute and lowbrow cuisine. In Ortega’s world, the tension that comes from living between two different cultures is not a source of anguish or confusion, but something to be exploited for creative purposes.

Elsewhere on the menu, the burritos are “monumental beauties” and the loaded fries are a hit with just about every table. But if there’s only one item to really focus in on, it’s the Tepito taco:

The taco is a pork lover’s delight: a heap of braised carnitas hacked into loose, juicy scraps and laced with slinky, meltingly soft cueritos. Crisp, thin French fries are crowbarred into the taco, gently punctuated with green and red salsa and the bracing freshness of cilantro and onion. The crowning touch is a wafer-like chicharrón chip, a sort of crisp bookend to the whole drippy, delicious mess.

Meanwhile up in Los Angeles proper, co-critic Bill Addison takes a “singular, spicy trip” through Thai Town at the aptly-named Northern Thai Food Club on Sunset Boulevard. The simple steam table space seats only twelve, and owner “Nancy” Amphai Dunne runs the room with a smile.

Addison loves leaning in to the revolving soups on offer, calling one in particular the sort of “powerful, pulse-quickening nourishment” that satisfies.

I can say with admiring certainty that Dunne’s stews — and many of her other dishes — are intricate and distinctive and unbridled in their potency. Food obsessives invested in the ecology of L.A.’s Thai dining landscape should put her tiny storefront on their itinerary immediately.

That said, it’s not all about the soups and stews, with Addison noting:

Dunne’s recipe for sai ua, Chiang Rai’s ubiquitous pork sausage, is remarkable — packed with coarsely minced lemongrass and other herbs to the point of fibrousness, but in a way that the flavors remain distinct and the textures stay captivating.

Funnily enough, Addison wasn’t the only person to espouse the benefits of Northern Thai Food Club’s food yesterday. Garrett Snyder from LA Magazine dropped a profile on the place just hours before the Times review, noting himself that “everything at Northern Thai Food Club is exceptionally and often absurdly delicious. You are physically incapable of ordering poorly.” It certainly seems like Northern Thai Food Club could be Thai Town’s next immediate breakout star after dual glowing endorsements like that.

Northern Thai Food Club. 5301 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.

Amorcito. 4150 McGowen Street, Long Beach, CA.